Global economy needs $48 trillion of investment by 2035. Sitton says national energy strategy will help America markets
Does America need a national energy strategy, a game plan to wrest control of oil markets from the Saudis and establish a new global leader in all things energy?
Ryan Sitton says, Yes. The newly minted Texas Railroad Commissioner hopes to knit together a coalition of energy-producing states that will provide leadership where President Barack Obama and Washington have failed.
“We are in a position to establish a new normal whereby we get beyond discussions of energy independence and focus our efforts on dominating global energy markets,” Sitton told the House Energy and International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs committees on U.S. trade policy.
“To fully realize this opportunity, the United States needs a comprehensive energy plan, something we haven’t really ever had. That would include repealing the oil export ban, revising or eliminating the Jones Act and getting the Keystone Pipeline built.”
Pressure is increasing to lift the crude export ban, including a recent study by Rice University professor Kenneth Medlock which argued energy security would actually increase if American companies could export light crude oil. Sitton claims Merchant Marine Act of 1920 – known as the Jones Act – protects domestic shipping interests but increases costs for the energy industry. And the Keystone XL pipeline is mired in political controversy and probably won’t be dealt with until after the 2016 elections, given President Barack Obama’s intransigent opposition to the project.
Sitton says he is frustrated by the lack of federal government leadership on these issues in the face of a significant opportunity for the American economy. China, India and other developing countries have a huge appetite for energy now and that will only increase in the future. The International Energy Agency predicts global energy demand will increase 37 per cent over the next few decades, requiring $48 trillion of investment by 2035.
The TRRC Commissioner, an engineer by profession and a 20-year veteran of the Texas oil patch, knows an opportunity when he spies one. The same, he argues, can’t be said for American political leadership.
“I think that President Obama’s statements show a clear and embarrassing lack of understanding of global energy markets,” Sitton said in a interview. “At a time when the US is poised to take a position in global energy markets that we have not had since the 1960’s.”
Sitton stops short of calling for a formal cartel similar to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). He points out that the American and Canadian oil and gas industries are already tightly integrated, producing about half as much crude oil as OPEC members.
“You add Mexico [which has taken steps recently to reform its energy industry] in there and certainly that group of nations is becoming a bigger and bigger competitor to the world’s biggest oil cartel,” he said.
If national political leaders aren’t prepared to lead on energy, then states will have to step to the forefront, according to Sitton.
“I believe because of the impasse in Washington that the vehicle we’re going to have to use to do this is an inter-state compact” he said.
“The State of Texas can step out on this thing and say, ‘Here’s not only how we envision the opportunities to be but how can we work with other energy producing states of the union – Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Mississippi. Even California if they want to participate in the energy strategy. Then let’s all work together and come up with something that is not political. It’s economic. And it’s scientific. And it’s forward looking.”
Sitton is working on a strategy document now and hopes to have the first draft in six to 12 months. What might an American national energy strategy look like?
“I don’t want to get into the subsidy business. And I don’t want us to be in the business of picking, as a government, where the industry’s developed. All I want us to be doing is articulating the opportunity. And making sure that we are consistent in that so that our companies are confident to invest,” he said.
His message to industry is to stay the course as much as they can and be ready when prices recover.
“We need to be putting ourselves in a position so that when oil prices come back that we are really, really well poised to deliver on that opportunity,” he said. “I don’t want companies to spend themselves into bankruptcy, but the long-term fundamentals on the energy market are very, very good. The US is so competitive today compared to where we were just 15 years ago.”
Oil and gas may be the centrepiece of Sitton’s vision for an American energy strategy, but he also recognizes the increasingly important role renewable energy – or, as he prefers to call it, non-traditional energy – will play in the domestic and global economy.
“And when you look five, ten, twenty, thirty years down the road as technology continues to advance in those I think those will play a very important role in our natural energy evolution,” he said.
Quarterbacking the development of an American energy strategy is very, very ambitious. But Ryan Sitton understands the scope of the opportunity before the United States, and by extension its energy partner, Canada: $48 trillion of investment over 20 years. Almost as much every year as the annual budget of the American government.
Whoever dominates that investment will likely become the dominant player in global energy markets – whether that be fossil fuels, solar, wind, geothermal, or other forms of energy.
Sitton intends America to be the global leader in all things energy. And it all starts with a national energy strategy.